NordLayer - Network Security

Attack Surface Management: a brief guide


By NordLayer
26 May 2022
10 min read
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In an increasingly connected world, life puts tremendous pressure on workplaces—the constant evolution of technologies and network administrators’ ability to oversee everything. Let’s not forget that a hybrid work approach also contributes to an already difficult task of keeping networks safe from unauthorized connections.

As a countermeasure to the entirety of threats that most organizations face, there’s a need for a discipline that would allow a more straightforward IT assets overview and control. Attack surface management is a discipline that can help orchestrate your business security even when your used online environments are expanding rapidly.

What is an attack surface?

Attack surface is the interconnected network of IT assets—often leveraged for a cyberattack. It consists of known and unknown vulnerabilities across hardware, software, and network components. 

Hackers can target several areas in each organization.

Managed assets — the organization’s publicly available inventory and the known dependencies running on them.

Unknown assets — unsupervised assets that have open handles to your internal network. For instance, this could be still-connected test units, website demo versions, etc.

Rogue assets — your organization’s assets that the attackers supervise—hacked routers, malware-infected PCs, etc.

Vendors — third-party vendors supply your organization with hardware and software assets. If they also provide maintenance, this is something that most companies overlook.

By nature, the attack surface is constantly expanding. Each user or new connected device adds its total sum of attack vectors to the overall attack surface. It’s fair to assume that a growing business will expand its attack surface as a network will have to support more users and more connections in and out.

What is attack surface management?

Attack surface management is inventorying and monitoring all entry points commonly used to stage a cyberattack. However, attack surface management uses this approach to patch the vulnerabilities up to minimize the number of risks an organization faces.

Implementation of attack surface management consists of several steps:

1. Identification — one of the most critical attack surface management steps is identifying all the related items to your internal network. Since each might have specific vulnerabilities, this is needed to unveil the exact scope of IT assets inventory.

2. Classification — not all vulnerabilities can hurt an organization to the same degree. Some vulnerabilities are more severe and require immediate action. Classification attempts to flag the critical areas that could cause the most damage to an organization.

3. Prioritization — as you’ve probably guessed from the name, this step arranges the to-do list of security flaws that need addressing first. This stage is instrumental when strategizing security setup deployment steps to mitigate risks.

4. Monitoring — attack surface management is a perpetual process requiring constant refreshes to uncover new vulnerabilities quickly. As soon as you find a gap, network administrators are racing against the clock to make these exploits ineffective.

Why does your organization need attack surface management?

Most businesses face the challenge of supervising complex IT infrastructure with many endpoints that could serve as attack vectors. Attack surface management attempts to stay one step ahead of the attackers before the organization faces a direct threat.

Keeping track of all used IT assets can be challenging in a business environment, as its scope and dynamics could overwhelm even moderate cybersecurity departments. If a business uses a hybrid infrastructure of legacy hardware and remote work solutions, the challenge of attack surface doubles as there are endpoints outside the company’s network.

Some sources claim that unpatched security vulnerabilities are the leading cause of data breaches. By using attack surface management, it’s possible to provide a timely resolution to reduce cyber risks threatening an organization. However, it’s only one of the potential routes a business could take to secure its resources better.

How can your organization mitigate attack surface risks?

A common practice when dealing with attack surface risks involves its reduction. These four steps could give you a framework for how you could begin reducing the attack surface in your organization.

1. Implement a Zero-Trust policy. You should deny access to your network to everyone without authorization. Zero-Trust puts a company’s security first instead of convenience, which can substantially affect your company’s security status.

2. Create safe gateways. Remote work policies are a new post-covid workplace necessity. Remote access should be allowed only via secure channels from a security standpoint.

3. Reinforce authentication. Your bleeding-edge cybersecurity tech is ineffective if the only thing stopping an attacker is a “123456” password. Authentication should be strict and leave little room for credentials exposure in an unrelated data breach.

4. Protect your backups. Unprotected backups can be how a hacker could obtain a company’s data without directly staging an attack. An alarming number of data breaches were caused by leaving data backups unprotected.

It’s also good to look into several integrated solutions that incorporate multiple cybersecurity systems to facilitate attack surface management.

How can NordLayer help?

NordLayer provides a Security Service Edge, or SSE-focused network management solution to address dynamic organizations’ needs. It offers a complete overview of the company’s network allowing its segmentation into separate teams and gateways, minimizing an attack surface.

With NordLayer, you can deny connections from jailbroken devices to protect your network from potential risks. This can be incredibly beneficial for businesses bringing their device policies, which usually have a large attack surface. It’s a great starting point to control your internal network better and minimize business exposure to online threats.

Get in touch with our team and discover more about our approach that could improve your organization’s cybersecurity status.

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